Bears focus on D-line a nice change
The Bears usually begin this time of year with a number in mind.
It's at least two -- and often three or four.
It's the amount of offensive linemen they need to find before the next season, faced with an off-season of buying and drafting to provide protection for a quarterback who has spent the previous year running for his life.
Shockingly, the Bears this week are not shopping on the offensive line for the first time in years.
"I don't remember a time when we finished a season and felt like we had a chance to keep the whole group together, because of health or contracts or whatever," said 13-year veteran Roberto Garza, after the Bears' final game of 2013.
"We'll see what happens with me, but if they want me, I think we have a great group that plays well together and could be together for a while."
Turns out the Bears wanted Garza, and they will keep the line entirely intact for consecutive years.
Now that you've caught your breath, remember that the Bears rebuilt the line one year ago, first adding tackle Jermon Bushrod and guard Matt Slauson to the left side in free agency, then drafting the right side with guard Kyle Long and tackle Jordan Mills.
Combined with a genuine offensive coaching mind, more weapons, a happy Jay Cutler and a backup QB who could step in and play, the Bears merely finished second in the NFL in points scored in 2013, after being 16th and 17th the previous two seasons.
The Bears set team records for passing touchdowns, passer rating, passing yards, total yards and first downs.
Now, they go into the second year of an offense with a head coach and QB knowing each other's strengths and weaknesses, and with two stars at receiver, a productive running back and a legit tight end.
There is no reason to think that the offense won't take a significant step forward -- and it was already very good last season.
So the hard part is done. The Bears have a head coach with an offensive outlook on football. They have a quarterback. They have a line that can protect him. They have a running game. They have weapons.
Remember, this is the Chicago Bears we're talking about, and they have an NFL offense.
When the Bears eschewed defense last spring in favor of building an offense, they had to figure it would take years, not days, to put in place a system and a group of players they could rely on to function in a 21st century offense.
The fact that it happened so quickly only means they can now get started on rebuilding a defense that was historically bad in 2013.
They would have to get very lucky to have the kind of impact in short order that they did on offense, but it doesn't mean the defense can't get considerably better this off-season.
As it always does on offense, the defense also begins on the line, and the Bears will focus much of their attention in free agency and the draft on rebuilding a line that was decimated by injuries, age and poor performance.
Sure, they fell to 30th in points allowed, 30th in yards allowed and 25th in third-down percentage, but that's nothing compared to being dead last in rushing yards allowed -- by 410 yards.
So after bringing back Jeremiah Ratliff and Nate Collins, on Day 1 of free agency the Bears signed defensive end Lamarr Houston and safety Ryan Mundy.
Yeah, there's a lot of work to do and it won't be done in one off-season, and certainly not in one day of free agency, but between the draft and free agency, if they can find a lineman who gets to the QB, a tackle to wreak havoc in the middle and a play-making safety before they go to camp, they can make big strides and at least get back to being a top-20 defense.
That would be enough -- with a great offense -- to make the playoffs. It probably won't be enough to win the Super Bowl, but you have to start somewhere.
The Bears started with their offense -- and it was long overdue.
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